The April 5 elections were not the first elections in Afghanistan, but they may turn as the most important political event in contemporary Afghan history. With the contours of Afghanistan’s political transition becoming clearer, activity has picked up momentum for post elections’ political settlement. Final results indicate that none of the competitors has been able to cross the 50 percent mark. Tally details are: Dr Abdullah 44.9%; Ashraf Ghani 31.5%; Zalmay Rassoul 11.5% and Professor Sayyaf 7.1%. Technically, the Afghanistan presidential election is destined for a run-off on May 28th.

Horse trading has already begun to forge new alignments and attempt to avoid the second round of elections. The two frontrunners have dismissed talks of a deal, saying such a move would be unlawful. However, president Karzai is making a strenuous effort to make that happen in exchange for a post 2014 political role for him. Both Ghani and Abdullah have agreed to appoint Karzai an advisor. Abdullah has reached out to Zalmay Rassoul as well. Rassoul is from the majority Pashtun community while Abdullah’s base of support is in the ethnic Tajik community, although he is half-Pashtun. Rassoul’s support base is seen as crucial as he enjoys the backing of the Karzai family, additionally. With the possibility of Ashraf Ghani joining a Karzai brokered power sharing arrangement, the likelihood of this gang of four striking a compromise formula to scuttle the run off round cannot be ruled out.

Moreover, a run-off is seen as a risky proposition in Afghanistan, given security concerns, the prospect of a low turnout and the cost – the cost for the first round was put at more than $100 million. The United States plans to withdraw most of its troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, so the longer the wait for a new leader, the bigger the risk of instability from a Taliban insurgency and from rivalries between ethnic or tribal factions.

In this intra-Afghan backdrop, US Special Envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan James Dobbins visited Pakistan this month to hold talks with senior Pakistani officials. Views were exchanged on the situation in Afghanistan alongside bilateral and regional issues. Dobbins and Pakistani officials discussed how to revive the reconciliation process in Afghanistan once the new government is formed. Mr Sartaj Aziz reiterated Pakistan’s continued support for a free and fair electoral process and a peaceful democratic transition to Afghanistan. He further emphasized that smooth security and economic transitions were pivotal for stability in Afghanistan and the region. The Pakistani side also briefed the US diplomat about the government’s efforts to strike a peace deal with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

Efforts to bring the Afghan Taliban to the negotiating table were on hold due to the election. There has hardly been any progress in intra-Afghan talks during recent months. The US is pushing for a peace deal between insurgents and the Afghan government before its forces leave. Reportedly, some ground has already been covered during informal contacts and non-disruption of elections was an outcome of some understanding regarding a post-election political settlement. Details are yet to be worked out; and this is where the devil usually lies.

As Pakistan is bracing to play its part in the post election reconciliation and integration processes in Afghanistan, hype is picking momentum in the foreign media which maligns Pakistan about the things that have gone wrong or may go wrong in Afghanistan. One of the key issues are worries that peace negotiations with Afghan Taliban are destined to backfire. During recent days, High Peace Council (HPC) reported that a lead Track-II interlocutor between Karzai administration and Taliban, Motasim Agha Jan, had gone missing. Newspapers and officials linked his disappearance to invisible hands trying to sabotage peace negotiations. There was speculation that he might have been transferred to Pakistan. Later, Motasim was found in detention in UAE.

Though elections themselves will not offer cut and dry solutions to the chronic problems of Afghanistan, the new leader will be better poised to take bold initiatives and make difficult decisions. His most challenging task will be to reach a viable political understanding with the Taliban. It would be naïve to assume that elections have rendered the Taliban irrelevant. They are a force; retaining the capability and capacity to carry out attacks against benign as well as well defended targets. At the same time, a global effort is required to take Afghanistan out of its current morass and prevent a relapse. The biggest challenge will be to keep Afghanistan economically viable. Besides other issues arising out of economic difficulties, Afghan security forces may split on ethno-sectarian lines and transform into numerous militias paid by warlords and drug barons. High desertion rate is an indicator that Afghan security forces are split-prone entities.

In a follow-up to its strategic partnership agreement with Afghanistan, India has recently signed an agreement with Russia for providing weapons to Afghan security forces. India will pay the Russian government for these small arms. Since the era of the Anglo-Afghan Wars, there is a tradition that most of the weapons held by Afghan security forces end-up in Pakistan. The kalashnikov culture that came to Pakistan is considered a major cause of the poor law and order situation in the country. There is a need for comprehensive planning at the national level to cope with the various types of fallouts emanating from multiple trajectories that Afghanistan will follow from the end of the electoral process, and onwards.

   The writer is a freelance columnist.